Baseline Buzz: Bouchard's to lose
LONDON -- In one corner you have Eugenie Bouchard. The darling of these championships. The adopted princess who's been tagged the heir apparent to Maria Sharapova. Blond, beautiful and bold. Turns out she can play some decent ball, too.
She's become the de facto face of Wimbledon, a marketer's dream.
A social media stalwart whose shameless selfies include photos with Jim Parsons, a ton of fellow tennis players and, naturally, the pope.
And in the other corner is Petra Kvitova. And that's all we have to say about that.
No, that's not entirely fair, but the point is that the Czech, who won this title in 2011, doesn't penetrate the Q-factor on a level close to Bouchard's.
When it comes to generating headlines, Bouchard wins in straight sets. The good news is that Saturday's finale will be about tennis and tennis only. And that's where Kvitova, who's dropped only one set in six matches so far, can compete toe-to-toe with her opponent.
So how will this one go? Tennis editor Matt Wilansky, FiveThirtyEight's Carl Bialik and espnW's Missy Isaacson weigh in on yet another rollicking edition of the Baseline Buzz:
Matt Wilansky: Grand Slam finals, as we've seen time and time again, can be a nerve-fest. And to me, Saturday's finale will be exactly that. It's counterintuitive on so many levels, but Bouchard is still only 20 years old and very green, but she is far and away the more composed, gutsy player of the two. Some might even call her ruthless. Bouchard has made it clear nothing is going to deter her resolve -- not friends, not other players, not anything. Her mission is straightforward: grind until she wears you down. On the flip side, there's Kvitova, who's struggled with nerves for a while, especially since she won the title here three years ago. Recently, she said her mental game is still a work in progress. Which might be the first step toward a healthier attitude.
Carl Bialik: Kvitova's path to the final reminds me a little of Marion Bartoli's last year: The Czech didn't have to play any top-15 seeds, though she was tested by five-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams. Kvitova advanced fairly easily otherwise, and, as you say, she has been somewhat overlooked despite past Wimbledon success -- as was Bartoli. Bouchard, though, seems highly unlikely to crumble in the final as Sabine Lisicki did last year. Bouchard has been even more dominant on her path to the final, winning every set she's played. I can't wait to see how their aggressive games measure up to each other's. Kvitova's winners (or unforced errors) can come from anywhere on the court, at any time, while Bouchard never misses an opportunity to step inside the baseline to crush a groundstroke or swinging volley.
Melissa Isaacson: Bouchard had some major breaks in the draw as well, avoiding both Serena Williams and Sharapova in her quarter, though she defeated the two players -- Alize Cornet and Angelique Kerber -- who vanquished the top seed and French Open champion, respectively. I agree that Bouchard's rare combination of counter-punching ability and aggressiveness should make this a compelling afternoon. The fear, of course, is that the young first-time finalist will shrink like Sabine Lisicki did last year, but we know by now that Bouchard is not the type. And I think she got the butterflies out of her system in the semis, when she did not play her best match. But no one can prepare a player for their first Wimbledon finals and Kvitova looked very composed in her news conference Saturday, saying she learned from the experience in 2011. Obviously, she figured it out.
Wilansky: She has figured out, but it should be noted Kvitova's path to the final has been blessed with a fairly easy draw. She hasn't played anyone ranked lower than No. 23, while Bouchard has taken out two top-10 seeds in Angelique Kerber and No. 3 Simona Halep. But both finalists have averaged just under 90 minutes on court per match and Bouchard has played only five more games than Kvitova, so neither will have an advantage in the fatigue department. But there's another factor to consider here. The weather forecast calls for some rain, which means the roof could come into play. And if it's closed, advantage Kvitova -- big time. The Czech, who has bigger, loopier swings than her opponent, loves indoor tennis, with three career titles and a 41-9 record.
Bialik: I hope whatever happens tomorrow, both players stay consistent for a while. Kvitova looked like she'd be a threat at every major and become No. 1 when she won here in 2011; this is her first Grand Slam final since then. Agnieszka Radwanska broke through to reach the final here the next year, took a set off Serena Williams -- and also hasn't been back in a major final. Last year's finalists were Lisicki, who transforms into an ordinary player away from Wimbledon, and Marion Bartoli, who retired soon after winning. Both Bouchard and Kvitova have the potential to contend at every big tournament. Rod Laver said at a news conference here the other day, "I don't understand letdowns. You just played beautifully to win the tournament where you just came from, then you say you're having a letdown. I never understood that side of it." I hope Bouchard and Kvitova follow the Rocket's credo.
Isaacson: The game is littered with one-time Grand Slam wonders (hello, Anastasia Myskina and Gaston Gaudio, the 2004 French Open winners), but you're right, Carl, Kvitova is too good for that. Though her size and power are certainly suited to grass, she has made noise (quarterfinals or better) at every Grand Slam tournament but the US Open (where she has only gone as far as the fourth round). Saturday's final has all the elements of a classic. Bouchard is also a big girl, capable of both absorbing and delivering a blow. I just hope both players perform to their potential, because I don't think I can take another final like last year's.
Wilansky: I'm with you there, Missy. Between Serena and all her antics, Sharapova's inconsistent results away from the French Open and Azarenka's health issues, women's tennis needs a spark. We thought Sloane Stephens might take some leaps toward the game's upper echelon, but she's still a work in progress. Bouchard has some serious allure. She has a stylish game to match her engaging personality. Kvitova is more coy, but has a powerful and talented enough game that could help her win a few more Slam titles. Love this matchup, but ultimately, I think Bouchard's steady game will be too much for Kvitova. Bouchard in straights.
Bialik: Bouchard has given us no reason to doubt her apt comment about her "boring" focus on tennis. She's into the final of just her sixth major -- faster than Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova got to their first finals -- yet Bouchard clearly is impatient to get on with the next step of winning her first major, so she can go on to win her second, third and 10th. I'm not saying she'll necessarily do that, but that's her attitude. I think that attitude -- and her game, with a backhand built to withstand Kvitova's lefty attacks -- will get Bouchard through in three sets. Kvitova's level always rises and falls, so I see her redlining to take a set.
Isaacson: I like Bouchard in three sets as well, and "like" is the operative word here because I'm picking more from the heart than the head. This is still a 20-year-old playing in her first Grand Slam final, and the unpredictable element to that would scare me if I was putting down actual pounds! Since I am not, I agree that a Bouchard win and Bouchard in general is good for women's tennis. She's a breath of fresh air, a tough and exciting competitor and someone you can see maintaining a level of excellence for a long time. And thanks for evoking Sloane Stephens' name here, Matt, because watching young players like Bouchard and Halep should show the young American in no uncertain terms just how hard she has to work if she wants to take that next step. I hope Stephens is paying attention.